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New toll lanes open after midnight on San Bernardino Freeway

The county’s first venture into toll roads will continue Friday night with the opening of 14 miles of express lanes on the San Bernardino Freeway — the second project of its type to begin operation in the Los Angeles area since November.

At 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will allow drivers to travel the new high-occupancy toll lanes — so-called HOT lanes — between Interstate 605 in El Monte and Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles.

“This shows we are willing to address traffic, gridlock and congestion in the region,” said Los Angeles Mayor and MTA board member Antonio Villaraigosa at a dedication ceremony in El Monte on Friday. “Other cities are going to do this across the county. We are going to see smarter use of highways.”

The two westbound and two eastbound Metro ExpressLanes will be open to solo motorists who pay a toll, but they will continue to be free for cars carrying at least two passengers.

During peak travel times, however, only carpools of three or more people will be able to use the lanes without paying. Van pools and motorcyclists also can enter the lanes toll free.
Using congestion pricing, motorists will pay $0.25 a mile during off-peak periods to $1.40 a mile during the height of rush hour. MTA officials estimate that the average toll should range from $4 to $7 one way.
 
Setting tolls based on the volume of traffic is designed to maintain a minimum speed of 45 mph in the lanes. If that speed falls below the minimum, solo motorists will be prohibited from entering the lanes until the minimum speed resumes.

Motorists interested in the express lanes must open a FasTrak account with the MTA and make a $40 deposit to obtain a transponder, an electronic device that automatically bills their account whenever the lanes are used. Information is available online at metroexpresslanes.net.

Marking the county’s entry into the use of tollways, the MTA opened its first express lanes along the Harbor Freeway on Nov. 10. They run 11 miles between Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center in the South Bay.

The lanes on both freeways are part of a $210 million project funded largely by the federal government. It includes upgrading transit and rail stations, 59 new clean-fuels buses, the $60 million El Monte Bus Station, highway ramp improvements and 100 new van pools.

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-- Dan Weikel
 
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